Our great-great grandmothers were not well represented in early records, especially married women who often couldn’t own land or vote. Those married women are the ones we are most interested in, as we are the descendants from that marriage. Fortunately some of the most revealing records for our female ancestors are found in military pensions. War of 1812 Widow’s Pensions are especially valuable for a whole generation of ancestors that are often difficult to find.
First Step: Indexes.
Three very valuable indexes for the War of 1812 are available online. Before searching, follow these guidelines. 1) Search for the soldier, 2) search using each of the widow’s known names (maiden, and all married names), 3) vary spelling on all names – not all online search engines will also search for phonetic or close spellings.
- Case files of pension applications based on death or disability incurred in service in the War of 1812, 1812-1900 (National Archives, Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15, film M313). These are the basic files for all soldiers and/or their widows who applied for assistance from the government, based on need. Not all the applications were approved, but even the rejected claims have been preserved and are just as valuable. Find this online for free at FamilySearch.org or at Ancestry.com.
- Old War Pension Index, 1815-1926 (National Archives, Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15, film T316). This index covers soldiers who served in the regular army, as opposed to a state militia, between the years 1783 – 1861. Find this online for free at FamilySearch.org or at Ancestry.com.
- Index to pension application files of remarried widows…based on service in the War of 1812 (National Archives, Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15, film M1784). If a widow was receiving benefits from her husband’s service, but then remarried, the payments were stopped. If she then became a widow again, she could reapply to have the pension payments renewed. Again, it is important to check all of her known names. Find this online for free at FamilySearch.org.
Get an original copy.
Each of these indexes should supply you with what looks like an index card with names, dates, and numbers. Use these numbers to go to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to view the original records, or order copies to be sent to you from archives.gov. However, the good news is that the War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions project spearheaded by the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) may just save you time and money. The project is photographing and digitizing in color all of the soldiers’ pensions from the War of 1812, and those are available for free at fold3.com. As of today, the team of experts is up to surnames with the letter J. Making these wonderful and invaluable documents available to the public is only possible through donations from people like you.
Genealogical Gems for Women in the War of 1812 Pensions
Generally, if a woman applied for benefits based on her husband’s service, she had to prove their marriage and his service (if he had not applied earlier). Generally, a man who did not die of his wounds, either during the war or later as a consequence of those wounds, was denied a pension. That didn’t stop many of our ancestral grandmothers from trying and their records tell us so much. You may find marriage dates, maiden names, children names, and even sometimes the names of some of the widow’s family. Here are some samples:
- Eliza Creamer informed the pension office that her maiden name was Eliza Harry; she was married to John Creamer at her father’s home in Montgomery County, Maryland, on 23 Aug 1822 by John Magruder, a Methodist preacher. As of 1850 Eliza was 68 years old and illiterate.
- In an effort to prove not only her husband’s service but also her family’s long years of patriotism, Joseph Whitman’s widow, Nancy, named her father as Captain Shubill Sumner who served in the Revolutionary War, and that she had a brother who served in that war as well (unnamed). Nancy gave her age, her maiden name as Nancy Sumner, that she married Joseph Whitman on 1 May 1840 in Franklin, Franklin County, New York, and that she had previously been married to Thomas Mayhew (no date given) who died in Buffalo, New York, on 4 Jun 1840.
- Nancy Treadwell’s pension request based on her husband’s service includes a beautifully transcribed full color family register, naming hers and her husband’s birthdates as well as all the children’s names and birthdates, and a few death dates. Sadly, her claim was rejected but descendants tell us that this is the only remaining family document after a fire.
Look at the online pensions often. One more reason you should check out the free digitized War of 1812 records at fold3.com: the every-name index. Even if your ancestor never applied for a pension, he or she may have signed an affidavit or been mentioned by another. As more and more pensions are digitized there are more opportunities to piece together the lives of those mystery women in our families.
 John Creamer (Pvt., Capt. McLaughlin’s Co., Maryland Vols., War of 1812), widow Eliza Harry, WO 14535,WC 1765, BLW 62696, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; National Archives (NARA), Washington DC.
 Joseph Whitman (Pvt., Capt. Lewis Torrance’s Co., NY Militia, War of 1812), widow Nancy Whitman, WO 19691, WC 24169; War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; NARA.
 Family Register, Stephen Treadwell (Pvt., Capt. Clem Guyton, MD Militia, War of 1812), widow Nelly Treadwell, WO 2487, Rejected; War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; NARA; see also Jon Harland Livezey, “Genealogical Treasure in a War of 1812 Pension File,” Maryland Genealogical Society Journal, Vol. 5, no. 2, 2014.